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Employing distributed wind power

By Staff | Sep 22, 2013

MARK?KUHN, a Charles City-area farmer talks to visitors on his Floyd County farm about the process of erecting a distributed wind turbine. He was part of an Aug. 29 tour sponsored by the Mason?City Chamber of Commerce.

CHARLES CITY – The farm of Mark Kuhn is located south of Charles City in Floyd County surrounded by commercial scale wind turbines.

But it was one 40-kilowatt wind turbine in particular that was worthy of a bus trip arranged by the Mason City Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 29 – one bought and erected by Kuhn on his farm and is in its fifth year of operation.

Kuhn’s turbine started its life in southern California in the 1980s where it was part of a wind farm at Tehachapi Pass.

Following its West Coast service, the turbine was disassembled and hauled to South Dakota where it was rebuilt.

Kuhn said he purchased the turbine from a company in Pipestone, Minn., and set it on his farm for a cost of $105,000. A government grant covered one-fourth of the cost.

Kuhn said the turbine’s annual 40KW output matches the electricity consumption on his farm.

A 9-mile-per-hour wind will operate the turbine.

The electricity generated by the turbine is fed into the power grid of the Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative and a meter measures its output.

Kuhn said he’s reimbursed for his turbine’s electricity on a kilowatt-for-kilowatt basis. At the end of each year, the REC compares Kuhn’s consumption of electrical power with his turbine’s production.

If Kuhn has produced more electricity than he consumed, he gets a check for the difference.

Kuhn said with five years of experience his turbine’s production total is about equal with his consumption.

This year will be the year the turbine will pay for its initial cost, Kuhn said, and in five more years, it will have paid for the maintenance it has incurred since it began operation.

Kuhn’s turbine is serviced by a company from Belle Plaine that sells, installs and services privately owned wind turbines. Maintenance is performed twice a year.

Kuhn said he believes the savings of generating electricity from his own turbine will be realized as electrical rates increase.

He sees owning a wind turbine as a hedge against higher electrical bills because of the net metering principle used by the REC.

The state of Iowa has in effect a revolving loan program to assist small-scale wind turbines.

The loan program offers financing of 50 percent of the cost at zero interest. The other 50 percent is the responsibility of the purchaser.

Kuhn said that a person with an electrical bill of $500 per month could expect a payoff in seven to eight years.

When asked what he would do differently today, knowing what he knows now, Kuhn said he would buy a larger turbine and mount it higher to take advantage of better winds.

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